Unveiling his plans to reposition J&K as India’s top tourist and all-season destination, Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed Wednesday said he cherishes to promote Gulmarg as India’s Davos, where country’s top business and policymakers can hold annual summits to frame new strategies in economic development.
He gave this clarion call from Mumbai’s famous Hotel Taj Lands End, where he held detailed interactive session with the country’s prominent tour and travel operators.
The Chief Minister was flanked by the Deputy Chief Minister, Dr Nirmal Singh and Minister for Finance and Culture, Dr Haseeb A. Drabu.
Drawing a parallel between Davos in Switzerland, which holds annual summits of World Economic Forum (WEF), and Gulmarg, Mufti Sayeed said the valley’s premier resort has all the required paraphernalia to host the country’s business leaders and policymakers for similar economic summits.
“Gulmarg is a world-famous tourist destination. We have state-of-the-art cable car, high-end hotels, skiing and heli-skiing activities and great road connectivity. I wish we host Indian Davos at Gulmarg,” he said while seeking cooperation from one and all to change the course of J&K and remove the trust deficits.
Describing tour operators as the lifeline of J&K Tourism, the Chief Minister also sought support of all behind-the-scene players to restore it to its original glory of being top tourist destination.
He said the tourism sector had drifted away and with able support from premier tour operators of the country, it will be paddled back to the shores of its brilliant past.
J&K, right through the Sixties to late Eighties, remained country’s premier film shooting and nature tourism destination.
Acknowledging the role of tour and travel players in promoting J&K especially through the recent difficult times, Mufti Sayeed said the State needs to be projected on a much bigger canvas as it offers diversity in culture, rich heritage, range of climates from the sub-tropical terrains of Jammu to the cold deserts of Ladakh, and the stunning locales of Kashmir.
“I thank the tour operators of Maharashtra and Gujarat who reposed faith in us through the hard times of early and mid Nineties,” the Chief Minister said, adding various steps have been taken to go for infrastructure upgrade in the State.
The Chief Minister informed the participants of the Government’s plans to go in for public-private participation through tourism sector by making available public assets for private use.
Promising to end the culture of red-tape and bureaucratic impediments, Mufti Sayeed assured the tour operators of doing business with ease in J&K. “This season, you will definitely find a discernible change in how you are facilitated,” he stated.
Asserting that Kashmir’s enchanting beauty has mesmerised travellers for centuries together, the Chief Minister said the flow of tourists, especially foreigners, to Ladakh, has grown considerably over the last few decades.
He said besides the huge influx of pilgrim tourists to Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine at Katra, steps have been taken to promote Jammu as an independent tourist destination.
“We can have travel and trade conferences at Patnitop and Bhaderwah. Jammu has a rich cultural history, a piece of which I saw for myself few days back when I visited Mubarak Mandi Heritage Complex few days back,” he said and described J&K as a bouquet of three distinct cultures that comes on one platter.
Highlighting the potential of Ranjit Sagar Dam, border tourism of Suchetgarh, Baghliar Dam and upcoming International Yoga Centre at Mantalai in Jammu region, Mufti Sayeed said the tourists will be surprised to find new and equally stunning and unexplored destinations lined up in their itinerary this season.
Describing J&K as an adventurer’s dream destination, the Chief Minister said the State has more than 2100 high-altitude lakes, several unnamed and unclimbed peaks in Karakoram and Kishtwar Himalayas which can be highlighted to attract ardent mountaineers and climbers to the Himalayan state.
He called upon the tour operators to encourage the educational institutions to formulate packages for youth and children. He said the J&K Government will be their partners in this endeavour.
“Please emphasize on adventure tourism. Youth need to be inspired to go to the high mountains. This way they will explore their country better,” he added.
Stating that the real beauty of Kashmir lies in its mountains, Mufti Sayeed said the State will bring to fore the potential for trekking and expeditions to promote adventure tourism in the State.
“The great lake trek from Gangabal to Vishensar and Zanskar in Ladakh to Kishtwar are just two examples of snaking through the great mountain passes to explore the hidden treasures of trekking in Kashmir,” he stated.
The Chief Minister said the Government plans to promote new destinations in J&K which are ideal for bag-packer tourists like Gurez in Bandipora, Warwan-Sinthan in Kishtwar, Gangabal and Daksum in Anantnag, Vishensar and Kishensar in Sonamarg, Naranag in Ganderbal.
Seeking cooperation from tour operators in becoming partners in J&K’s tourism sector, Mufti Sayeed also highlighted the huge potential of J&K in Conference and Golf Tourism, which can be offered to Corporate and business sectors of the country.
“I have told my Secretary Tourism to work out weekend golf packages for high-end sports tourists,” he stated.
The Chief Minister said the world-famous Dal Lake will be promoted as a world heritage site and steps are being taken to realign the houseboats to improve the aesthetics of the lake and ensure proper sewage disposal.
On a specific query from a tour operator, he said the Government will classify the existing boats into different categories so that the visitors are able to enjoy their stay as per the category they have paid for.
The Chief Minister said the new Government would formulate a strategy to motivate overseas tour operators for organizing foreign tourist groups to Kashmir which is as safe as any other destination in the country.
“I have a vision for tapping the tourism potential of J&K and together we will work to realize this dream” he told tour operators.
Mufti Sayeed said he had recently invited all the top tour operators of the country to picturesque Gulmarg to put in place a well-thought out strategy so that they have a bird’s eye view of the State’s enchanting beauty, heritage and culture.
“Now I am here amongst you. I invite all of you again to visit J&K and see the change for yourself,” Chief Minister said while highlighting the potential of tourism industry in creating jobs and improving economy of the people connected to the sector.
On the issue of better chopper sorties to the Holy Amarnath Shrine, the Chief Minister said J&K will strive for smooth helicopter rides this season.
He also thanked the Central Government for allowing LTC on all private airliners which will increase the tourist footfall to J&K. Earlier this facility was only available in Air India carrier.
Mufti Sayeed told the operators that the famed handicrafts sector of J&K will be dovetailed with the tourism industry and genuine branded products with price-tags will be sold to the visitors.
While replying to a question, Minister for Finance & Culture, Dr Haseeb A. Drabu called for conceptualizing a business-cum-pleasure package for country’s 4000 leading companies. He said the State offers the right environs for conference and convention tourism. He said attractive golf packages for high-end tourists will also be framed.
On the issue of high cost of travel to Kashmir, Dr Drabu said the State Government is planning chartered flights in peak season to offer fair rates to the travellers. He said the Government has also taken up the issue of night-landing facility for airline carriers at Srinagar Airport. “Special trains from Ahmedabad, Pune, Nagpur, Mumbai and several other places are also being planned to increase footfall of domestic tourists,” he added.
One of the tour operators stated that we need to think beyond Srinagar, Gulmarg and Pahalgam. He said there is an equally enchanting Kashmir at Gurez, Verinag, Jai, Daksum, Sanasar and Kokernag as well.
All leading tour operators from across the country as well as stakeholders from J&K participated in the conclave.